There’s a scene in the movie Man of Steel when Clark Kent’s dad sacrifices his life to save a dog. It’s very dramatic, and it’s portrayed as heroic. But despite all the pathos and drama, there’s nothing heroic about treating a dog’s life as the moral equivalent of a human life. In fact, it’s an evidence of pagan decadence to think like that, which is why that scene made sense to American movie-goers in 2013 but would have made no sense to Americans of previous generations.
I thought about that scene today when I saw the headlines about the boy that recently got trapped in a gorilla enclosure. The long and short of the story goes like this. A 3-year old boy climbed into the enclosure through an inadequate barrier. A 450-pound gorilla traps the boy and violently manhandles him. Knowing that tranquilizer darts would work too slowly, Zookeepers decided to kill the gorilla in order to save the boy. And that is what they did, and the boy is alive and well now.
Right call, right? Not so fast. Here are the headlines that that I have seen today:
And there are countless others I could link to. What do they have in common? They all seem to suggest that the boy’s life and well-being should be weighed in the balance with the gorilla’s. The whole exercise suggests a moral equivalence between people and animals that is non-existent.
This is not to say that we’re glad a gorilla had to die. Nor is it defending negligence on the part of the zoo. How the boy got into his situation is a separate moral question from what to do once he was in the situation. Once he was in the enclosure, the only priority should have been to protect the boy at all costs. And I don’t just mean the protection of his life. I mean the protection of his limb as well. It would be right to kill that gorilla even if it were only to prevent the gorilla from roughing him up and traumatizing him. That’s how precious human life is, and that used to be common sense.
One of the vices of the Ninevites of old was that they didn’t know the moral difference between people and animals (Jonah 3:8; 4:11). It was a sign that as a civilization they did not know that human beings alone are created in God’s image and as such have a superior value and dignity over all other creatures. The Ninevites were pagans, and they did not retain the knowledge that God made mankind alone in his own image (Genesis 1:26-27). It is an ominous sign of the times that the error of pagan Nineveh has overtaken the American mainstream.
Bottom line. Despite the “outrage” from animal rights supporters, the zoo did the right thing to protect the boy. And I’m glad they did.